We recently received a five-song sampler of the new R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now (release date, March 8, 2011) at the office, and, if these songs are any indication, the boys from Athens are continuing on the upward curve they began with 2008’s Accelerate. Gone is the melancholic and mopey Michel Stipe that marred many of the post-Bill Berry releases. Collapse rocks. And while it draws upon many of the classic sounds from Automatic for the People (“UBerlin” actually sounds a little too much like “Drive,” with a smattering of “The Great Beyond”), The Man in the Moon soundtrack and Monster, it sounds raw and fresh.
With their 15th album, and last one on their Warner Brothers contract, they play with that same sense of urgency they found for Accelerate when they realized everyone thought they were a bunch of has-beens. There’s Peter Buck’s mandolin, there are those wonderful harmonizing background vocals. There’s even Eddie Vedder moaning away on “It Happened Today,” a trademark mid-tempo melodic beauty. And let’s face it, “Mine Smell Like Honey,” about someone in deep, deep denial, is one of their best titles since “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”